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Boulder election results not certified by canvass board -- only county rejection in Colorado

Election day may seem like a fading memory in Colorado. But the divisiveness of the race is alive in Boulder County, where members of the canvass board has refused to certify the results, arguing that there were many problems -- including dozens of precincts where they say more votes were counted than ballots cast. Election officials call those allegations false and maintain that the refusal to certify won't impact the outcome.

The canvass boards in each county are the bodies that audit the election and are responsible for officially certifying the results after all the ballots have been counted.

Governor John Hickenlooper at a vote center in Aurora on election day.
Governor John Hickenlooper at a vote center in Aurora on election day.
Sam Levin

Each canvass board can have two representatives from the Democratic, Republican and American Constitution parties -- plus the county clerk and recorder.

On the Boulder Canvass Board, the two Republican representatives and the two from the American Constitution Party, which became a major party last year, voted not to certify the election. Those four outweighed the two Democratic canvass board members and Boulder Clerk and Recorder Hillary Hall, also a Democratic, who voted to certify the election results.

That makes Boulder the only county not to have its election certified by the canvass board. The county's elections are now in the hands of the Secretary of State's office.

The canvass board members who rejected certification cite what they see as several serious flaws in the operation of the election. Meanwhile, Hall says the election and its results are solid and portrays the conflicting views as politically motivated and outside of the board's scope.

"The clerks run the election, but the elections don't belong to them," says canvass board member Mary Eberle, who represented the American Constitution Party and voted against certification. "Elections belong to the citizens...and in this particular election, and I fear in many elections in Colorado, the clerks did not allow the citizens to play the role that the general assembly has intended for them to play -- and that's the oversight and the ability of election watchers to correct discrepancies."

She says, "Citizens can't have confidence in the results."

In a letter to Secretary of State Scott Gessler, on full view below, the opposing canvass board members explain why they are not certifying the election. Here is an excerpt:

In summary, thousands of ballots have been cast and counted without proper eligibility verification. Hundreds of others have been rejected without proper verification. If the lack of reasonable verification has allowed a meaningful number of ballots to be rejected or counted improperly, local contests in particular may be impacted. For example, we believe that

• At least 18,500 ballots were not subjected to reasonable signature checks. Without further work we cannot estimate whether a material number of ballots were improperly rejected or accepted.

• 3,255 provisional ballots need considerably more review for both rejection and acceptance and partial acceptance. Some contest outcomes could be impacted by a high error rate.

• 130,000 ballots were recorded in the pollbook by the uncertified, trouble-prone Bell & Howell equipment. The impact on the accuracy of the pollbook and Official Abstract is unknown.

Eberle argues that the clerk and recorder's office did not provide the data the canvass board needed to feel confident in the results and that, in general, proper checks on the validity of the votes were lacking, especially in regard to mail-in ballots.

At the same time, she says there were 41 precincts in which "total votes counted" were more than "total ballots cast."

"That seemed unusual," says Eberle. "We think that [the cause]...needs to be determined."

Continue for response from Boulder election officials and for full documents.   For her part, Hall says there are several simple explanations for perceived discrepancies between votes counted and ballots cast. She says that polling places can serve multiple precincts and in some cases, election judges gave out the wrong precinct ballots to voters. Ballots were ultimately counted in the correct precincts, which could lead to the false perception that there were more votes counted than ballots actually cast, she says.

Voters in Aurora on Election Day.
Voters in Aurora on Election Day.
Sam Levin

"It balances out," Hall says. "Absolutely, there were no more ballots than people. And we tried to be transparent and present information as it came in."

She says, "There was no legitimate reason this election should not have been certified."

In some of their complaints, like concerns over the scrutiny of the signatures, Hall argues that the canvass board members refusing to certify the race are complaining about issues outside the scope of the board.

"Frankly, it's very disappointing," says Hall, who argues that this refusal to certify the election is tied to their dislike of mail-in ballots. "I don't think they...had any intention to certify the election.... I know in their minds they are doing a service to the community, but I disagree. I think they are doing a disservice to the community by using their positions on the canvass board to express their dislike of how the majority of people in Colorado choose to vote [through mail-in ballots]."

It has been an overwhelmingly successful election in Boulder, says Hall. "And this overshadows that.... We had a record turnout.... The community came together and everyone felt it was important to vote and they did, and this puts a smudge on all these efforts."

But Eberle says the potential errors and lack of oversight are great enough that it could impact the local races for county commissioner, taxes, house races, etc.

"It's obviously not going to overturn the outcome for the presidential race," she says, "But the smaller races are the more vulnerable ones."

So what's the impact of the refused certification?

Not much, says Hall, who explains that the election results now go to the Secretary of State's office, where staffers will have to review the complaints from the canvass board. Afterward, the office can certify the Boulder election. We left a message with a Secretary of State spokesman for further clarification and will update this post when we get a response.

"This has no impact on the outcome and the election results," Hall says. "We will work with the Secretary of State...and I have no doubt our results will be certified."

But to those opposing the results, that's part of the problem -- that Secretary of State Scott Gessler can essentially rubber-stamp the results, diminishing the authority of the canvass boards to audit the elections and ensure the integrity of the results.

Marilyn Marks, an activist who has been very critical of some of the ballot processes this cycle through her organization Citizen Center, sees it as problematic that Gessler has so much authority to certify the results -- even if the canvass board disagrees.

"It gets to be pretty darn scary," she says. "No one person should have that power."

Continue for the full letter from the canvass board and a response from the County Clerk and Recorder of Boulder.   Here's the full letter to Gessler from the canvass board, outlining their reasons for refusing to certify the election. Gessler Letter 6

And here's a response from Hillary Hall, explaining how there could be discrepancies between ballots cast and votes counted. Explanations for Differences Between Precincts

More from our Politics archive: "After Scott Gessler's anti-fraud efforts, more than 500 registered voters removed"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.


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